Rob Smyth

Thursday, 27 December 2007

Bushfire Back Decking Sprays

Today I extended our Bushfire/Wildfire External Water Spray System (EWSS) to the back decking. I finally found an elegant solution to wet down the decking by having sprays protrude up through the decking just under the side railing. this means that the spray are inconspicuous safe from damage. First tests show a good throw of water, I'm experimenting with both 360deg and 90deg sprays. The 90deg sprays throw water out at a low angle so they seem more reliable in high winds expected during a bushfire but the 360deg sprays are good on the far corner which has some ferns up against the decking.

The photo shows one of the 90deg sprays.

Open Design And Collaboration 'Win Win' $$

Just recently I purchased a Topfield PVR (Personal Video Recorder). One reason I went for a Topfield was the TAPs. TAPs are C++ applications that run on the PVR to do ... well, whatever you like. The thing that makes the TAPs exciting is that Topfield has made the PVR's operating system kinda 'open' so that anybody can write TAPs, and yep the community jumped in a many free innovative TAPs are now available. I can now download TAPs to change PVR skins, display EPGs (Electronic Program Guides), change how the PVR responds to the remote keys, and even change how the box 7 segment display works!

The thing is that the community comes up with more ideas than the original manufacturer could ever do and provides them for free. The manufacturer ends up with a more valuable product due to community support and the community ends up with more choice and functionality due to collaboration.

What a great example of the 'win win' of collaboration and open system design. Hey, it sold me the product.

Sunday, 23 December 2007

iTunes Could Do With A Bit Of Tuning

Having recently got a new IPod Nano (3rd gen) I've been using iTunes 7.5 software for the first time. The iPod is great, and while the iTunes software is 'adequate' I'm surprised with then number of rough edges it has. I'm disappointed that it does not have the quality I did expect from Apple. Mind you, I still like it and will continue using it.

I'm running Windows XP Pro.

The rough edges I've hit are:

  • Register iPod feature does not work

  • When you first install iTunes it auto starts when the iPod is connected and presents a register iPod page. It just does not work. It seems that everybody is having this problem. The software locks up for a minute or two and then continues without any error message. Next time you will see the same register page. The only solution seems to be to click the 'Never Register' button. Such an obvious fault that hits users on first use and first screen it is hard to understand how Apple let it though.

  • Rating settings made while ripping are lost

  • While transferring a CD to iTunes (Ripping) iTunes plays the tracks automatically. So I figured this would be a good time to listen to them and rate them. I right mouse clicked on the column header area and selected the 'Rating' column. I then set the rating of each track as it was ripped. But when all were done and I went to the 'Music' page I found that my rating settings were lost. Darn.

  • Column widths are not persisted

  • The default columns widths are less than ideal. If I manually adjust column widths these widths are lost when I return to that page. Rather ordinary for a Windows app.

  • iTunes crashes

  • I cannot explain why but it has locked-up on me a few times now. I guess about every several times I use it. Each time I've had to use task manager to shut it down.

  • iPod detection can get 'confused'

  • Once when I had iTunes up and then connected my iPod, two iPods appeared in iTunes. iTunes started an auto-sync and after some time reported that my iPod was possibly corrupted. When I pulled the USB cable out both iPod icons disappeared and when I reconnected all was well.

    Not a confidence builder.

  • Contacts sync from Windows Address Book does not work

  • I have contacts held in Windows Address Book using a local WAB file (not using Outlook). iTunes only imports the first one or two contacts correctly and then misses most others and those others it does import are missing the name, the email address is used in place of the name. I've tried clearing the WAB file and importing all again from a CSV file, which I checked, but the results are the same. Looks fine in the address book but not on the iPod.

    The work around is to export each contact separately as a vCard file directly to the iPod's Contacts folder. That works fine but the Windows Address Book software cannot export all contacts at once.

  • Ratings column changes dodgy

  • Setting a rating, in the music view, by clicking on the rating column often requires you to move the mouse over another control before it works.

    Click on 'Music' in the left pane, then right mouse click on the column headers and select 'Ratings'. The Ratings column is now shown. If you have not set a rating you will see five dots. You can click on one of these five dots to set the rating from one to five. But ... double click the track and then immediately move your mouse over a rating dot (as if you are listening to rate it). Typically I find I can click all I like but the rating is not set until I move my mouse from one dot to another and then back to the one I want. After this move it works immediately.

Still, I really like my iPod and find iTunes 'OK', but I no longer think of Apple software as being high quality. A shame.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Importing gmail contacts to my iPod Nano

I've been trying to import my gmail contacts to my iPod Nano and have found that this is not exactly straight forward. It seems that if you are not using Outlook or windows contacts then you need to create a vCard (vcf) file of contacts and copy this manually to the iPod's Contacts folder.

First up I tried exporting the contact to CSV (gmail's only option) and then convert to vCard (vcf) using a CSV to vCard on-line converter here. Worked, but the results were a bit disappointing with a few '&' characters appearing on the iPod. Usable but not as convenient as I would like. I would like to be able to view the edited data is a grid before saving to the iPod.

I found GreySquare Blog which shows how to use the Windows Address Book as an intermediate contacts store. Works well.

In summary:

  1. Export outlook CSV file from gmail.

  2. Import the CSV file into Windows Address Book.

  3. Configure ITunes to auto sync contacts from the Windows Address Book.

Other iPod related tools I found while doing this:

Sunday, 2 December 2007

The 'Best' Revison Control Software

One of the teams at work is currently evaluating which revision control software (RCS) product to use as we are moving away for their preferred choice of ClearCase. I've never understood ClearCase and have, in a couple of companies, been perplexed by the strong passion for ClearCase that some teams have had. But, after observing the guys at work evaluating different products the penny has dropped for me on how ClearCase can, truly, be the best RCS software.

There are many revision control tools like subversion (SVN), ClearCase, Perforce, etc, and their functionality varies greatly. No one product that I know of does everything. Interestingly when I worked at a GE company one team used SourceSafe, another used ClearCase, and the other used (I think) Perforce. I've tried to use ClearCase and found that it greatly reduced my productivity. But yet, others insist it is an enabler. How can this be so, we are all software developers, right?

Taking ClearCase as the example here, at my current work we have a team that sees ClearCase as important to their success while others see it as a blocker. I think I can explain this from why I find it a blocker and from what I've learnt as to why this other team sees it as an enabler.

ClearCase as an blocker

I like to work in an agile fashion and in particular in a eXtreme Programming (XP) style. It suites me, I perform my best this way. So the style that works for me includes the attributes of:

  • Continuous Integration (CI)

  • Ruthless refactoring

  • Teamwork

This translates to a process of:

  • Commit code to the repository about every 30 minutes (average on a good day).

  • Merge from the repository every 15 minutes (keep up to date with the rest of team's commits).

  • Do not work on branches.

ClearCase is very feature rich. Trouble is that these features make the process above impossible. The features are actually detrimental to this way of working. The fundamental problem is that ClearCase, one way or the other, enforces a level of isolation so that each commit requires multiple steps. The end result is that it takes minutes to do a simple merge and commit with ClearCase. If CI is being used the superior merging capabilities offered by ClearCase's process have no benefit as the merges are always small.

So I find that for an XPish way of working ClearCase's features do not translate to benefits.

ClearCase as an enabler

The other team, I mentioned at the start, however considers ClearCase's features to be important enablers to their work. I admit that at first I did think that were a 'crazy' but I've come around and recon they are right. After all, they are a successful team so how can they be wrong!

I see them as agile as they are collaborative but their work style is nothing like XP. The style that works for them includes the attributes of:

  • Non-CI. Each developer works in a branch with, what I consider infrequent (but that is qualitative) merging.

  • Up front design approach (I think).

  • Teamwork.

  • Little or no refactoring. (Refactoring is seen as a result of failure as opposed to my style of it being an enabler.)

  • Low requirement churn.

This translates to a process of:

  • Infrequent commits. I'm guessing an average of once every 2 days.

  • Careful merging (essential with infrequent commits).

  • Detailed history records of merges to trunk as this is the 'delivery' and work is usually on a branch.

So, interestingly, SubVersion's (my favourite) features do not translate to benefits for them just like ClearCase didn't for me. For example, SubVersion is fast but they do not really need speed. The big blocker for them is that SubVersion does not currently (scheduled for ver 1.5) record merge history. That is, when a branch is merged to trunk. This is their basic work practice!

So, for them, ClearCase is the best as it matches a work style that works for them.


I really should have known better, people always trump process. People and environments are different so there is no one right way of working.

My spin on this: Now that agile software development is proven and wide spread, Agilists are at risk of now becoming the ones that say 'one size fits all'.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Outdoor Web Cam

I got my first camera installed on the house today but the results are somewhat ordinary. I've posted sample images on my wiki here. The image quality is not good enough for us to view conditions at home. We want to use to see if there is smoke or embers in the area.

I will probably end up getting another camera, but in the meantime it gives me something to use to get the rest of the bushfire fighting system going. Something is better than nothing :-).